Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Friday, February 4, 2011

Man Busted for Smuggling Whale Teeth

Posted By on Fri, Feb 4, 2011 at 6:30 PM

What a smile
  • What a smile

Here is a story that involves both sperm and teeth -- and it's still G-rated.

James Saunders was convicted yesterday in a San Francisco courtroom for scheming to illegally buy, sell, and smuggle sperm whale teeth from the faraway country of Ukraine. The conviction was a crack in an nationwide operation of people who were illegally importing the teeth.

It's illegal because the sperm whale -- which is the largest toothed whale --  has been protected by the Endangered Species Act since the 1970s. But since whales' teeth are made of ivory, criminals are clamoring to sell them for money. They are often used for scrimshaw, or the art of engraving and etching designs . Although our first President, George Washington, would have likely used animal teeth to make his own set.

Saunders was convicted of violating the Endangered Species Act, and another federal wildlife statute that bans the sale of protected wildlife -- dead or alive.

Saunders, 69, admitted that between 2002 and 2006, he and a Ukraine supplier plotted to import massive quantities of teeth into the U.S. -- with a market value of more than $200,000, according to San Francisco court documents.

Once the teeth were imported, Saunders would ship them to merchants, who would then sell the precious ivory as art. He was sentenced to six months of home confinement and 50 hours of

community service, which gives him plenty of time to take up scrimshaw.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF

and @SFWeekly 

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , ,

About The Author

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert was the Online News Editor for SF Weekly from 2010 to 2015. She's a Texas native and has a closet full of cowboy boots to prove it.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"